I'd heard that Dreamcatcher was nothing like what the trailer made it out to be, but I needed to see for myself. I'm stubborn like that.
The trailer that I saw was about these four friends who go off into the woods and apparently unleash something evil. Morgan Freeman shows up later and seems to know something about it. The trailer and the movie poster focused on a strange woman, sitting alone in the middle of a snow-covered road, whom a couple of the friends nearly run over. Is she some kind of Native American mystic who brings all this down on the friends? The official site supports that interpretation with this description: "Four friends hung a dreamcatcher in their cabin. It's about to catch something it cannot stop." That's a movie I'd like to see.
Dreamcatcher, on the other hand, is Men in Black meets Stand by Me. I like the Stand by Me aspects of it: the four friends who've been a team since childhood and share a common secret. It's the Men in Black part that bugs me. Contrary to the website's claim, the dreamcatcher in the cabin catches nothing. It's an awkward metaphor for a mentally handicapped buddy of the four friends. Stephen King probably explains it better in the book, but the analogy is muddy in the film. Morgan Freeman does indeed know what's going on though, because he's the commander of a top secret military unit that's been protecting the Earth from an alien invasion for the last twenty years or so.
The movie's real problem is that the alien invasion twist comes out of nowhere. As far as you know, both from the marketing and from the first third of the movie itself, you're watching a story about Native American artifacts and people with mystical powers. Then, without warning, Morgan Freeman shows up and starts talking about stuff right out of Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and War of the Worlds that we're supposed to believe has been going on for the last three decades.
I'd hoped that having been spoiled about the alien invasion twist, I'd be prepared for it and just be able to enjoy it for what it is, but even then, it's flawed. King's novels work better for me as mini-series than movies, and I think that would probably be the case here too. The story's too rushed. It does a nice job of letting you spend enough time with the four friends to like them, but everything that happens to them feels like it's happening too soon. There's some spooky stuff, but unfortunately the film doesn't build enough tension around it to make it powerful. Even the strange woman in the road, so heavily featured in the marketing, is only briefly featured; just long enough to move the plot along to its next point.